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Palliative care relieves the side effects and symptoms of an illness, but does not replace your primary care for the illness. Its goal is to make you comfortable and improve your quality of life.

What is Palliative Care?

Palliative (pronounced pal-lee-uh-tiv) care is treatment for the physical, emotional and psychological symptoms that can occur during a serious illness. In modern palliative care, doctors and care givers focus, not on curing or extending life, but on optimizing everyday life.

For instance, palliative care focuses on minimizing the life draining symptoms of cancer—the physical pain and the nausea and fatigue often caused by cancer and treatments like chemotherapy. Having an illness like cancer can also lead to depression and anxiety. In some cases, a palliative care giver may help seniors decide not to have chemotherapy because of all the side effect. For some seniors, it is better to live a shorter, more-full life, than a longer life in pain and discomfort.

Palliative Care vs. Hospice

Hospice care patients have a terminal illness that they are no longer receiving curative treatment for. They typically only have months to live. Palliative care is a part of hospice treatment and it’s appropriate at any point during a serious illness.

Benefits of Palliative Care

  • Improves communication between the patient and health care providers
  • Opens discussions about treatment options and symptom management so the patient is more involved
  • Relieves pain and discomfort from symptoms such as nausea and shortness of breath
  • Improves coordination of care with health care providers, the patient and family.
  • Meets the emotional needs of the patient
  • Provides for the spiritual needs of the patient

Do You Need Palliative Care?

Consider palliative care if:

  • You are suffering physical pain from a serious illness or side effects from the treatment of that illness.
  • If you or your loved ones are experiencing emotional or psychological pain as the result of an illness.
  • You need help coordinating your care
  • You need help understanding your situation

How Do I Get Palliative Care?

You’ll usually need a palliative care referral from your doctor. Tell all your medical care providers (doctors, nurses, specialists), and your family that you want it. Describe to your doctor what quality of life means to you such as spending time with loved ones, being relatively pain-free, being treated at the place of your choice, maybe your home. Let them know all your personal, cultural and religious beliefs that could affect treatment decisions.

What Kind of Illnesses Receive Palliative Care?

Patients with progressive, incurable diseases, including but not limited to cancer, strokes, cardiac disease, respiratory disease, kidney failure, Dementia, Alzheimer’s, HIV/AIDS, amyotrophic lateral sclerosis (ALS) and multiple sclerosis should receive palliative care. In addition, families of these patients also receive palliative care.

When Do I Receive Palliative Care?

From the time of diagnosis and throughout the course of the disease.

Where Do I Receive Palliative Care?

Palliative care is provided in the hospital, in long-term care facilities and at home.

What Physical Symptoms Does Palliative Care Relieve?

Palliative care relieves symptoms such as pain, fatigue, shortness of breath, constipation, nausea, loss of appetite, sleep problems, and many other symptoms and side effects of a disease and disease treatment.

Does Insurance Pay for Palliative Care?

Yes. Most private insurance companies cover at least part of palliative care as do Medicare and Medicaid.

The Palliative Care Team

A palliative care team can consist of the following professionals: doctors, nurses, psychiatrists, social workers, chaplains, pharmacists, counselors, nutritionists, and massage therapists.

So for conditions such as anxiety and depression, you could undergo psychotherapy along be prescribed antidepressant or anti-anxiety drugs. Psychotherapy may include relaxation techniques, and coping skills for things such as negative thoughts.

For physical pain, a doctor may prescribe morphine or other opiate such as hydrocodone and oxycodone.

Ministers and chaplains can address topics of religion, death and the afterlife as well as discuss feelings such as disappointment and remorse.

Meeting Your Palliative Care Team

According to, when you first meet with the team, you should ask the following questions.

  • What can I expect from palliative care?
  • Where will my care be provided?
  • What do you recommend for my care?
  • What decisions do me or my family need to make?
  • Can you explain the pros and cons of these decisions?
  • Will you talk openly about my illness with me and my family?
  • How are you involved in my care when I'm in the hospital? How about when I am discharged?
  • How will you communicate with my other doctors?
  • How do you minimize symptoms of severe pain?
  • What kind of support is given to my family?


Palliative care can be crucial for those patients suffering from a serious illness and for the loved ones of the patient. It is designed to lessen the physical pain, help with the emotional trauma, and decrease the stress that comes with treatment. If you're undergoing treatment for a serious illness, ask your doctor for palliative care.


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Written By

Jeff Hoyt

Editor in Chief

Since graduating from Harvard with an honors degree in Statistics, Jeff has been creating content in print, online, and on television. Much of his work has been dedicated to informing seniors on how to live better lives. As Editor-in-Chief of the personal… Learn More About Jeff Hoyt

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